Lit. NotesShort Story

Summary of The Woman Who Had Imagination by H.E. Bates

A village choir headed by Alfred was going to perform at the mansion of rich Antanio. There were the singers with their wives and mistresses riding the brake. Everyone was excited about the performance of their group named “Orpheus Male Voice Glee Singers” except a young man called Henry Solly. Alfred, the leader of the group was a little man dressed in a straw hat and a dapper grey suit. He was sitting at the front of the brake. He was talking to everyone except his wife. She was sitting opposite her husband. She was a plump, double-chinned woman with big adoring eyes. She was dressed in a lavender-grey dress and a hat to match her husband’s suit.

Henry Solly was sitting in a grave mood. He was neither laughing nor participating in gossip going on. He was a young man of 20 who was being taken with the group against his will. Alfred was a draper by profession. Henry had been helping his father in the business for the last seven years. Alfred had but a little interest in his business and his shop’ “was gloomily unattractive and poorly patronized.” Alfred kept sitting in the back living room practicing hymns and songs on the American organ. It was Henry who attended the shop. He was a nervously sensitive young boy with fair hair, blue eyes, and a small mobile mouth. The journey went on with never-ending gossip of the party members. They went in the sun, under the shadowy trees with their brake jolting and jolting. Ultimately, they reached their destination i.e. Antonio’s mansion.

Antonio was a very rich man whose parents were extremely fond of music. And he too was mad after it. He had been inviting the choirs to his mansion every summer. His mansion was a sort of aristocratic residency that had ‘innumerable rooms’. When they reached there, Antonio welcomed them. In the meanwhile, Henry sneaked away into the house. He started visiting the house. He walked through passageways and rooms. He felt there the coolness of church. There was a strange sort of hollow silence broken at intervals by the sound of the voices and strange receding and returning echoes.

“He took off his hat and wiped his sweaty forehead with his handkerchief. The air felt as cool as a leaf on his hot face.”

He went on walking into a room by one door and out by another. He turned along a narrow corridor in order to return to the stairs, but the passage seemed contained within itself, to lead nowhere. And in a moment, he was lost. Suddenly he heard the sound of reading. Someone was reading a text to someone else. He saw across the room a young girl was reading a book to an old man. She looked at Henry who was wondered struck and embarrassed too. He uttered, “I’m lost.” The girl replied, “It’s all right.”

The girl’s name was Maddalena. She was Antonio’s sister and the wife of the old man. She belonged to Italy. She had perhaps married that old Antonio for the sake of money. He was a jealous person. When she stood up to show Henry the way to the stairs, the old asked who that young man was. Maddalena replied that he was the new gardener. When she came to Antonio, she said, “Well, now I’ll see you out.” “Go and enjoy yourself.”

She also asks Henry had he seen the lake. Henry replied no, she advised him, “Go and see it. Across the park and through the rhododendron plantation. You’ll find it. It’s lovely.”

Henry came out and found that singing for the afternoon had been over. Everyone was talking and laughing while women were playing croquet on a small lawn under the main terrace. The fishmonger began to talk to Henry. He told him about Antonio, about his passion for music, and also about the lake that was a prohibited area. Antonio did not want anyone to visit the lake and hook, even disturb the fish. After having a short conversation with the fishmonger Henry sneaked to the lake. He reached there and observed that the water of the lake was still and smooth. There were only some small rippling waves created by a pair of ducks who got disturbed and frightened by his coming. Beautiful water lilies were also there creating an intoxicating effect. He walked along the lake.

The scene was, “The grass was spongy and noiseless to walk on, the air very still and warm under the shelter of rhododendrons, and pigeons made a soft complaint in the silence.” Suddenly he was aware of something moving on the opposite bank of the lake. It was Maddalena. They kept walking on their respective banks. Maddalena began to run when she reached the wooden bridge at the end of the lake. The girl came to him and stood at a distance. In her agitation, she started to bite her lips with her teeth. She said that he should not have come there. After a while when she recognized him even then she went on saying, “But you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t.” Henry reminded her that it was she who asked him to see the lake; he replied that it made no difference whether she had asked him or not.

They talked there for a while. Henry wanted to get free with her but she seemed to be under a strange pressure. Perhaps she was afraid of her old jealous husband or was thinking about her brother who, as we are told by the fishmonger, was a strict person. Anyhow, among other things, she told Henry about her parents and her brother, Antonio, “of how he was passionately fond of music, of singing especially. Twenty years before, her father had brought her mother to live there. Her father had been an English doctor and her mother Italian, an opera singer, a very gay woman, but a little irresponsible. Now that her father and mother were dead the brother and sister lived alone in the place and the brother devoted himself to music.” They listened for a moment the choir was singing, “Calm was the Sea”, and the voices, falling, crooned away almost to silence.

After a while, the girl disappeared and Henry too came back to the mansion where her father’s musical group was performing. It was almost midnight when the members of “Orpheus Male Voice Glee Singers” were on their way back home. Henry was thinking about what was told to him by the fishmonger that Maddalena was a woman having an imagination.

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